I’ve had a recent exchange of emails with a long-time fifth grade teacher in my local school district. She has agreed to share with us her insight into how children’s lit is used in classrooms, as well as other observations about books. So…I give you part one of an interview about children’s literature in classrooms with a fantastic and talented teacher of “middle graders.”
Carpe Keyboard: You teach 5th graders and I know you are a fan of good books. My daughter always said, “Mrs. Jordan picks the BEST books, Mom!” Do you get to choose the books you use in class, or do all of the 5th grade classes in your school read the same stuff?
Doris Jordan: There are some author studies that I have no choice and some model picture books that I am encouraged to use. At one time we were told not to use books that upper grades would be using. There was a list of books that were specifically "sacred" for each grade level.
Our district was divided in that opinion. Some teachers claiming that no matter how many times you read a book, you can find more depth each time you read it. And on the other side of the fence, teachers insisted that reading a book ahead of time took away from the predicting aspect. I find that no matter what I choose there is going to be somebody who has already read it. I work around it and that student feels confident and even special because he is in on the "secret." So you can see that I belong to the first camp.
So for the most part I choose my own books. I am somewhat limited by multiple copies but in Hilliard we are so lucky to have many books to choose from. Not all schools are so lucky. I remember tracking books down at libraries just so I had enough. Now we have a plethora to choose from.
CK: I would guess that there is a wide range of reading skills for fifth graders. I’ve seen some kids in my neighborhood carrying around Harry Potter, and some that are still reading less complicated stories. How do you handle that?
DJ: Books are leveled now, and it is important to pick books that fit your student. The reading level of the student is the most important aspect. It is such a balancing act to choose a book that is not too hard and not too easy. Independent books should be easy for a student to read, but not boring. The student is usually the best judge of that by the time they reach fifth grade after some training from the teacher.
CK: Who are your favorite children’s authors? Do you like to read children’s literature?
DJ: First let me answer the question about why I find so much pleasure from reading children's books. When I went back to school to work on my master's I couldn't think of anything better to do than read children's books. Can you imagine that being my homework? I used to sit outside reading, while my children splashed around in their kiddy pool. My mother, who lived with us, would come to the door and say, "So and so is on the phone for you." I would say, "Tell them I'll call them back. I'm doing my homework."
It was here where I found out about the talent of children’s' authors. They were about the simple pleasures in life that all kids can find. Life is not just about the extreme pleasures of romance or about violence. Life is the day to day problems, joys and inspiration we find in ourselves and our loved ones. If we can teach children to find the simple joys, maybe they won't spend their whole lives waiting to win the lottery!
This is when I fell in love with Sharon Creech and Patricia McLaughlin. Of course, I also enjoyed the historical fiction authors who came out of the woodwork to make the once upon a time, boring subject of history come alive with real characters. And I cannot let this go without confessing my first love, which is Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read her books as a child and still find comfort in her tales of family love. I have traveled to visit a few of her homes and openly bawled when I saw Pa's fiddle.
CK: I know when my daughter was in your class, it seemed like all the kids were very “into” Harry Potter. And with Twilight showing up everywhere, it seems like fantasy is big with all kids lately.
DJ: I am not a big fan of fantasy, but I am always happy to see anything that children find so compelling to read that they will work and work in order to bring themselves up to the level in order to read those great big thick books.
I made myself read a Harry Potter book and the first Twilight book but it was enough to know that it was not for me. That doesn't mean I would discourage a student from reading one, or all of them, as long as they could understand them. Some children will try to read them before they are capable and then I think they do more harm than good. The student feels frustrated, yet compelled to say they love it because of peer pressure.
Yes, there is great peer pressure to read the most popular book. I believe that all children should be exposed to many genres. I still feel that way as an adult and push myself to read things that challenge my interest.
Stay tuned for more from Mrs. Jordan. Part 2 of my interview will appear in another post soon… In the meantime, go buy a book, will ya?